Oklahoma State guard Phil Forte back from elbow injury

WPPROD

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — For whatever reason, Oklahoma State guard Phil Forte has flown under the radar.

Maybe it's because he missed most of last season with an elbow injury. Perhaps it's because at age 23, he's older than some graduate assistants. Maybe it's because the 5-foot-11 senior is, well, 5-foot-11.

He's a giant in new Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood's eyes. Underwood calls himself the “most blessed coach on the planet” because he has a player who embodies the work ethic he is trying to instill in his program.

“Not enough superlatives and adjectives to say in a positive mode about Phil,” Underwood said. “He is one of those guys that no one is talking about, and they should be.”

Forte's not just a grinder, he's got an enviable resume. He's 22nd in school history with 1,307 points and has played in 102 career games.

As a sophomore, he dropped 23 points on Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse, made 7 of 10 threes and nearly upstaged current NBA stars Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins in Oklahoma State's 80-78 loss . Two games later, he went 6 for 6 from 3-point range at Oklahoma .

As a junior, he scored a career-high 32 points against North Texas. Later that season, he helped the Cowboys beat No. 8 Kansas in Stillwater , despite having the flu and throwing up before the game.

Forte was primed for a strong senior season a year ago, but he was injured in the third game and didn't play basketball again until after the season was over. After fighting through some bumps and bruises during his recovery, he feels he's back to normal. He went 3 for 4 from 3-point range in an exhibition win over Pitt State.

“Now, it's full strength, it's 100 percent,” he said. “I'm ready to go. Just looking forward to the season.”

His point guard, Jawun Evans, couldn't be happier. The Big 12 Freshman of the Year last season and a preseason All-Big 12 pick this season, Evans is a pass-first player who can score. Now, he can look for Forte, who ranks fourth in school history in 3-pointers made and has connected on 39 percent of his tries.

“It does a lot for our team,” Evans said. “You've got a great shooter, one of the best shooters in college basketball, coming back.”

Forte started off at Oklahoma State with high school teammate Marcus Smart, and Forte sometimes stole the show from the current Boston Celtics guard during the two years they played together. Forte averaged 10.2 points as a freshman and 13.3 points as a sophomore.

When Smart left for the NBA, Forte stepped up. He averaged 15 points as a junior, fourth in the Big 12, and was named third-team all-conference. His age and experience give him credibility with the younger players and leads to some fun.

“I'm five years older than some of the freshmen that are here,” Forte said. “We kind of joke in the locker room how old I am, or how young they are. It's kind of been an ongoing joke and something we have a good time with.”

Perhaps the most important statistic involving Forte is that Oklahoma State has reached the NCAA Tournament in each season he has completed. He believes the Cowboys can get back there again, and he's annoyed that the Cowboys were picked to finish seventh in the Big 12.

“If that's not a motivating factor — I'd be lying if I said it wasn't,” he said. “We obviously shouldn't expect to finish seventh, and I don't think we will with the talent we have.”